Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sighing up Mt. Si

"Never measure the height of a mountain until you have reached the top. Then you will see how low it was." -- Dag Hammarskjold

I had not planned on tackling Mt. Si when I woke up Saturday. It was #3 on my list of interesting, challenging hikes to squeeze in this summer. But since my alarm didn't rouse me when it was supposed to, I got on the road too late to drive too far so I chose a closer mountain.

Local mountaineers told me Mt. Si is a must for all hikers in the region but to expect company. Lots of it. They were right. I couldn't walk more than a few feet before passing someone coming down the mountain or pausing for a break on the way up.

I hit the trailhead at 11:52 a.m. and the sun was beating down with record-breaking temperatures (for Washington) that soared into the mid-90s. Luckily, the trail gradually climbs through a shaded conifer forest and all I saw of the sun was little glimmers through the trees.

It's a well-maintained trail and looked like it would be a gradual walk up the 3,700-elevation climb. I set off with great enthusiasm, taking note of the still, hot air and wondering why there were no birds chirping. About 20 minutes in, the steepness hit me and I started grumbling under my breath about the unusually warm weather, getting a late start, choosing yet another steep hike, having long hair that blankets my sweaty neck.

The 1.0 mile sign brought little relief since I knew there were seven miles left but it did give me a sense of renewed strength. Before I knew it, I found myself in Snag Flats, which thankfully leveled out for a few moments so I could take in the burnt trunks. A wildfire raged through here for weeks back in 1910 and the charred remains of forest are easily spotted among the regrowth.

I kept trucking and got a kick out of the signs posted every half mile so you could see how fast (or slow) you were ascending. You know it's a tough climb when they include markers every half mile!

Just when my lungs were starting to really burn and my blisters were giving me guff, I trudged past the 3.5 mile sign and came upon massive rock outcroppings and a rather rewarding view of Mt. Rainier and other peaks in the area. I could even see Interstate 90 in the distance.

Since this was an obvious place to rest, I decided to plop down on some boulders and eat a banana and some grapes. My naturally sweet treats attracted plenty of bugs but I was delighted when a beautiful reddish orange butterfly landed right on the banana peel and stayed for the duration of my breather. The view was nice but I had been told that the pinnacle of the mountain was where the best outlook was so I stood back up and the butterfly flitted off.

A rock gully was the next obstacle but was relatively easy - as long as you watch where your feet land. On the other side was one last winding uphill trail and then a sign pointing left for Snoqualmie Viewpoint. At last.

That sight, how the world just opens up and you're no longer in
a forest or scrambling over rocks, was phenomenal. I could see rolling green hills in the backdrop, stands of trees, entire cities with clusters of houses and roads, a piece of a calm river circling the mountain base. Downtown Seattle stood in the distance, clear as day to see. I could even hear the band that had been playing at a weekend festival in North Bend when I passed through hours before. It was surreal to be sitting in the middle of nature after such an ascension, looking down on civilization.

I sat for nearly an hour, marveling at the sight and enjoying the sunshine and solitude. Then I headed back downhill, gathering enough speed that I hardly stopped to look around. One thing did catch my attention
though. Somewhere around mile six, I heard chirping. Since I had been so shocked earlier to not hear birds, I halted in my tracks and started searching for the tweeter. It ended up being a fluffy, bottom-heavy animal that looked to be something like a gopher. He was sitting on a branch far too small in the heights of a tree, chirping like a bird. I stood and stared for a while, trying to figure out if he was stuck or injured or simply singing to passersby. I never did figure it out but I left him there in the tree and concentrated on the last few miles.

The parking lot was an awfully nice sight that day.

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